The Destruction of Historic and
Cultural Heritage in Cyprus.
By Ismail Veli……
The title of this article is as controversial as they come. For decades both Turkish Cypriots (TCs) and Greek Cypriots (GCs) have accused each other of destroying each other’s Historic and Cultural sites. Each side claims to hold the moral high ground and claim the other side is the real culprit. If the truth has to be said, both sides are guilty. The GC side in particular has carried out an unceasing and successful campaign in the propaganda war, while the TC side as usual tends to go on the defensive. In fact while the GC side has many valid points to make on this subject, it almost seems to relish the negligence of the Turkish side on this subject insofar as it helps fuel its propaganda war. The level of hypocrisy and denial on both sides on this subject beggars belief.
Embargoed, who for years has argued for protection and co-operation from all sides on this subject, has been side-lined and ignored. It seems that pre-conceived views from the Greek NGOs that Embargoed is a nationalist organisation in wanting the lifting of the Isolation on North Cyprus is far more important than the proposals to work together in order to protect, restore and save decaying sites on Cyprus. In fact there is complete denial of any destruction of TC heritage in the south. The protection of Hala Sultan/Tekke is shown as an example of immense care and goodwill on the GC side in protecting Islamic/TC heritage.
This sadly is something that the International community and the GC public has swallowed lock stock and barrel. The fact that the Mosque of Yeni Cami/new Mosque, also known as Cami-i Sagir/ deaf Mosque in Paphos/Ktima was raised to the ground and turned into a car park after 1974 has been completely ignored. The Turkish cemeteries, historic baths, fountains, schools that have been destroyed, many turned either into car parks, roads and dump yards is not even discussed let alone investigated by the media or people.
When the GC Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Markoulli was invited by the All Parliamentary Group of Cyprus (APGC) as a guest speaker at Portcullis House on 25 January 2012. I asked her how a recognised member of the EU, that seems to take such an active role on the protection of sites in the North can possibly excuse the destruction of hundreds of Turkish sites in its own backyard. She was not particularly interested in looking at the immense number of photographic evidence which I held in my hands. Her response was so abysmal as to make it laughable. She claimed “if it can be proven then of course it’s not right”.
If one is a Foreign Minister of a tiny Island with every site within a short driving distance of the Ministry, then not knowing, or rather not wishing to know the reality at one’s own doorstep is an example of utter ignorance or hypocrisy on a grand scale. How can a road be built over Ceylan/Kilani Cemetery named ‘1st Apriliou Street”, which was the date of the start of EOKA terrorism in 1955, not possibly be known by a Foreign Minister of a country no more than 2500 square miles in size??. (The South). The fact is the condition of Turkish Cultural heritage hardly gets discussed, let alone investigated by the media or people.
The following statement by Mr Stefanos Stefanou, the government spokesman at the time, seems to follow the same path of denial. In his statements as reported in the Cyprus Mail on 16 April 2012 he blatantly ignored the GC attempts to politicise this issue and completely denied their part in the destruction of Turkish heritage on the Island.
“The Republic of Cyprus fully respects the monuments and places of worship of the Turkish Cypriots, located in the free areas and preserves and protects them,”
Stefanou condemned the arson attack but denounced the Turkish Cypriot leadership’s efforts to politicise the issue by making “arbitrary and unfounded accusations”.
Mr Stefanos Stefanou’s was responding to questions on the arson attack on the Köprülü Mosque in the city of Limassol in Greek Cyprus on Friday, April 13, that caused the gate of the mosque to be seriously damaged. made the following statement.
Stefanou said and in turn slammed Turkey for the destruction of religious monuments in the North “in an attempt to alter our country’s cultural heritage and history”.
The evidence in the video below makes a mockery of the claim that Turkish sites in the south are being protected.
Embargoed and many TCs have acknowledged the lack of care or indifference to the destruction of many GC heritage sites in the North. In fact Fevzi Hussein, the Chairman and Ismail Veli, former community relations officer for the group often went on TC television to condemn the destruction and negligence on the Turkish side. Denying the obvious is tantamount to denying the undeniable and accepting the unacceptable.
For many people who fully support the protection of heritage on the whole Island, we can only look aghast at the useless and pathetic attempts by all sides to cover up their own complicity in destroying what has taken thousands of years to evolve.
The lack of co-operation on such an important issue is one of the many causes at the root of much suspicion and distrust between the two peoples on the Island. In fact while the Greek Cypriot NGOs constantly sing the tune of “unacceptable foreign interference” they are quite happy to invite the APGC at the time headed by MP for Southgate, London, David Burrowes to Cyprus in order to “help clean up GC cemeteries in the occupied North”. This MP whose only knowledge of the Cyprus issue is one of total ignorance and self interest became very obvious in a meeting with members of the TC community in Palmers Green. He unashamedly declared that he actually met and had the support of the Muftu of the TRNC Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay for such an undertaking, and that the opposition of TC NGOs in the UK were unjustified and therefore should be ignored on the grounds that they were only motivated by nationalistic ideas and completely out of touch with the people in Cyprus.
Obviously Mr Burrowes did not take into consideration that anyone would bother to write to Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay for clarification of such a claim. The email received by Tözün Zeynel on the 17 Apr 2012 from the Secretary of the Muftu is proof of Mr David Burrowes unbelievable and shameless lies to the Turkish community, and of course to members of the APGC. Before that on 8 December 2011 with an Embargoed delegation comprising of Fevzi Hussein, Fahri Zihni, Simon Ayhan Ahmet and Ismail Veli he came under pressure to respond to photographic evidence of the destruction of TC heritage in the south, Mr Burrowes made one of the most atrocious remarks possible for a politician. His excuse for the destruction was:
“In a twisted logic I understand the destruction of sites for infrastructure projects”. The obvious question was then asked “would you (Mr Burrowes) support the destruction of Apostolos Andreas for an infrastructure project like a power station to be built in its place”. His response was a complete 180 degree turn in stating “that would be unacceptable”. The conclusion was that Mr Burrowes as head of the APGC had no complaints about the destruction of TC heritage.
How on Earth there can be a reconciliation on the immense problems in Cyprus when such Politicians are invited to participate in the affairs of Cyprus is beyond comprehension, and possibly reveals the underlying truth that perhaps the Cypriots do not, or will not take the necessary steps to heal the wounds of the past. In fact one could go further and say that perhaps the Cypriots themselves are quite cosy with the constant hatred and enmity that has gone on for over 60 years. If peace was achieved many will simply have nothing to do in a harmonious and peaceful environment. That I’m afraid is a sad indictment of the reality behind the psych of the Cypriot Lobbyist’s and political establishment.
Copy of the Mufu’s letter. The English translation has been added for the benefit of non Turkish readers.
Date : 17, Apr 2012 12.25.:00 + 0300
From : KKTC DIN İŞLERİ BAŞKANLIĞI (KKTC head of religious affairs)
Sayın Tözün Zeynel
(Dear Mr Tözün Zeynel)
Din İşleri Başkanımız Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay ile görüştüm.
(I have met with the head of religious affairs Doç. Dr. Talip Atalay ile )
Bu anlamda şu hususları belirtmek isterim.
(On this issue I have a few points to make)
a- Başkanımızın her hangi bir İngiliz Parlementerle ne tercüman aracılığıyla yüz yüze, nede telefonda her hangi bir görüşme yapmadığı,
(a- Our head has not met with any British Parliamentarian via an interpreter, in person, or by telephone),
b- Dinler arası dialog kapsamında, İsveç elçiliği yetkileriyle görüşmelerde bulunulduğu,
(b- On the issue of religious affairs the only meeting that has taken place was with the Swedish Ambassador).
The following survey carried out by the political research department of the TRNC in 2006 shows the general condition of Turkish Heritage in 171 regions.
Mosques, Cemeteries, Turkish baths, Fountains, Tekkes-Ancient tombs
30 in good condition
115 in bad condition
Below is a slide show showing some destroyed or uncared for, Turkish Cypriot historical and cultural heritage sites in south Cyprus.